More than 100 representatives from the healthcare community gathered at the Pearl Studio on Tuesday to learn how sharing healthcare data can paint a clearer picture of the community’s overall health.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Chief Operating Officer and Healthcare Access San Antonio Board Chair George Thomas.
Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Chief Operating Officer and Healthcare Access San Antonio Board Chair George Thomas. Credit: Courtesy / HASA

Providers, community leaders, and software professionals explored topics such as cybersecurity in health care, provider benefits of population health informatics, technology to meet healthcare delivery, and more at the symposium, hosted by San Antonio-based health information nonprofit Healthcare Access San Antonio (HASA).

“HASA is a huge asset to the community,” said George Thomas, the chief operating officer of Methodist Healthcare Ministries and HASA board chair. “We have products that can help our providers in the community with population health understand what we do as an organization to improve the health outcomes of the people we serve. We’re not just focused on the clinical information, we’re focused on the social determinants of health.”

Navigating the medical landscape can be confusing and frustrating for consumers, and providers sometimes struggle to keep track of patients’ medical information. In an effort to streamline care, reduce costs, and manage resources more effectively, HASA aims to create a central repository that allows patients’ medical information to follow them wherever they seek treatment.

HASA CEO and Executive Director Gijs Van Oort said Tuesday the purpose of the symposium is to figure out how to put different data sources together to benefit both patients and providers.

“Right now in San Antonio the data is sort of stuck in silos,” Kimberly Harris, HASA’s director of marketing and business development, told the Rivard Report. “The health information exchange is able to pull it all together and get a bigger picture of what’s going on in the community.”

Healthcare Access San Antonio CEO/ Executive Director Gijs van Oort, Ph.D.
Healthcare Access San Antonio CEO/ Executive Director Gijs van Oort, Ph.D. Credit: Courtesy / HASA

Van Oort said that although clinical data is HASA’s bread and butter, the organization wants to focus on potential gaps in health care – community screenings, preventive screenings, hospitalization, and home care – to provide a medical safety net for patients.

“We realize that patients are only sick 5% of their life and the other part they’re healthy and have other encounters in the community that we want to capitalize on,” Van Oort said. “… Data collection is not just looking at the clinical part but also looking outside to other sources, such as housing sources, school attendance, and food insecurity. Those are all the angles that we would like to, over time, build in.” 

The collaborative health information exchange is all done in tandem with patient privacy and data security, Van Oort said.

“We are very sensitive in everything we do [and make sure] that patients always have the option of participating or not participating, so that it’s not something that’s done to them but for them and the community,” he explained.

Prevention is at the forefront of HASA’s focus, Van Oort added, because many health issues can be prevented by looking at unmet health-related social needs in a community. Dr. Vince Fonseca, HASA’s medical director, listed several social risk factors that play a major role in health outcomes, including a person’s zip code, housing situation, and available transportation.

The ability to monitor and spot check social determinants is paramount, Fonseca said. Being able to track factors that impact people with diabetes – such as not having a clinic in the area or appropriate modes of public transportation – can help diminish health disparities and provide solutions within preventive care.

“[We] look at HASA as this repository that helps us make informed decisions,” Thomas said. “If you look at care management as a tool, one of the important tools is creating informed and activated patients, as well as creating a proactive provider base.”

In order to make this happen, having a patient portal is part of the equation, as it will let physicians access patients’ health histories when they show up at a clinic or hospital.

“That way they don’t have to redo the test for these same patients, which increases our cost,” Thomas said. “The advantage we have is we currently have 2.4 million patient records in HASA from the healthcare systems in San Antonio.”

What HASA is working on today, Thomas said, is understanding how to get all the clinical information back to providers in time, thus reducing the wait time to get information from HASA’s system.

“The other thing is to ultimately make this available to the other service areas as well, so we’d like to replicate that in Dallas,” Van Oort said. “So our interest is not anymore just San Antonio.”

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...